Two state legislative recounts begin Wednesday

Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Christopher Dietzen draws a slip of paper out of a fish bowl Tuesday, naming a precinct elections officials will double-check for election returns accuracy. He sits on the State Canvassing Board, which certified most election winners.

A hand recount of 21,288 votes in a state House race begins Wednesday.

So does one in a state Senate race.

Douglas County officials begin the House recount work at 8:30 a.m. in the courthouse in Alexandria. In Otter Tail County, the recount begins at 9 a.m. Thursday in Fergus Falls.

The State Canvassing Board on Tuesday approved rules governing the House District 8B recount, as well as a state Senate recount south of the Twin Cities. Rules follow those in effect for the 2008 U.S. Senate and 2010 governor elections.

House District 8B is the tightest legislative race. Republican Rep. Mary Franson leads Democratic challenger Bob Cunniff by 11 votes. Franson’s lead earlier was a single vote, but it expanded after mistakes were found that forced election officials to withdraw 35 ballots last week.

In Senate District 20, Democrat Kevin Dahle leads Republican Mike Dudley by 78 votes. That district is in LeSueur, Rice and Scott counties.

Results from both recounts are due back to the State Canvassing Board before Dec. 4.

The board-approved rules require county officials to set aside space for the public to watch recounting.

“Cell phones and video cameras may be used in the public viewing areas, as long as their use is not disruptive,” the rules read.

Representatives of the candidates will be allowed to challenge election officials’ decisions about who should get each ballot. The canvassing board would decide who, if anyone, receives votes from challenged ballots during its Dec. 4 meeting.

In past recounts, a number of ballots were the subject of arguments about voter intent. Such ballots could determine the outcome of races as close as in House District 8B.

Challenged ballots will be posted on the secretary of state’s Web site (www.sos.state.mn.us) when available.

While the two recounts are important in their districts, they will not determine the balance of legislative power. Democrats won enough seats on Nov. 6 to control both legislative chambers.

Minnesota’s Nov. 6 election produced a record turnout.

More than 76 percent of eligible voters cast ballots, best in the country, but the state’s top election official says even more would participate if they could vote early.

In this year’s election, 2,950,780 Minnesotans voted. That is the most ever, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said, and while final numbers are not in he said that he is sure it is the most in the country.

“We’re No. 1 by many,” he said.

Ritchie’s comments came after the State Canvassing Board approved returns from Nov. 6 voting. Only minor changes were reported from returns posted soon after the election.

Ritchie said he thinks young people helped boost the number of voters, but has seen no reports to back that up. This year’s election attracted more than 30,000 more voters than four years ago, state Elections Director Gary Poser said.

Allowing Minnesotans to vote early would help even more, he said. However, he added, since the state already leads the country in turnout, increased numbers would be modest.

Voting has increased in the few rural voting precincts where mail-in voting is allowed, Ritchie said.

Minnesota does not allow general early voting. It does allow absentee votes, in cases such as when a voter would be out of the precinct on Election Day.

Ritchie said he would not produce an early-voting plan, calling that a legislative duty. However, he does plan to meet with Senate election leader Sen. Katie Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, in coming days.

Another election issue Ritchie said should be handled is what to do if a disaster hits on or near Election Day.

“We need a plan,” Ritchie said.

Ritchie pointed out problems like Hurricane Sandy produced in the northeastern United States when it hit just before the election. There also was the infamous Halloween blizzard of 1991 that stopped activity in much of Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa.

State Elections Director Gary Poser

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